The aptly named blizzard "Snowzilla" hit the Northeastern United States in January of 2016, causing great damage to the area.
Photograph by Joe Flood
A blizzard is a dangerous type of winter storm. It is characterized by strong winds, snow and reduced visibility. Blizzards form when snow falls in windy conditions or when snow is lifted from the ground by strong winds. Some blizzards can cause whiteouts. It is impossible to tell the sky from the ground. Severe blizzards have become more common in the last few years. Many of them have hit the United States East Coast. One was so bad it was called "Snowzilla." The blizzards have broken snowfall records. Scientists think these storms will become more serious because of climate change.
Increase in Carbon Dioxide Raises Temperatures
Climate change is caused by human activities. Gas, coal, and oil are fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are burned, large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO₂) are released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. It traps heat from the sun in the Earth's atmosphere. Greenhouse gases help keep the Earth warm enough to support life. However, too much of these gases in the atmosphere causes temperatures to rise. This is known as global warming. Average global temperatures have already risen in the last century. Action has to be taken to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases. If not, temperatures will continue to rise.
Greenhouse gases and global warming affect the climate. This is the long-term average of weather patterns. It is usually measured over a period of 30 years or more. Weather is the short-term events in the atmosphere. It is the day to day rainy or sunny forecasts.
Scientists say that climate change could make blizzards stronger. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. Higher sea temperatures also put more water into the air. This moisture precipitates as rain in warm areas or snow in cold areas. More moisture in air results in storms that are stronger and come more often. So, blizzards will be stronger and occur more often where temperatures are still cold enough for snow.
Melting Ice Causes Arctic to Warm Up
Sea ice in the Arctic has been steadily melting. The ice usually reflects sunlight, but that light now gets absorbed by the ocean instead. The ocean gets warmer, which causes more ice to melt. This is a cycle that causes the Arctic to warm twice as fast as the rest of the world. Sunlight usually gets reflected by the ice. This changes weather patterns in other parts of the world.
The effects of global warming are also felt in the atmosphere. The jet stream is a fast-moving current of air. It circles the lowest region of the atmosphere. The jet stream affects weather in Europe and North America. It also depends on the temperature difference in the poles and tropics. It moves faster if there is a big difference in temperature north and south of the stream. As the Arctic warms, the temperatures become too similar. This slows the jet stream and makes it weave north and south instead of moving straight. It pulls Arctic air down to the south from the north. This causes unusually cold weather in some places. Changes to the jet stream can cause harsh cold weather events, including blizzard and polar vortex storms.
phenomenon in which global warming causes the polar regions to increase in temperature faster than the rest of the world
layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.
force per unit area exerted by the mass of the atmosphere as gravity pulls it to Earth.
storm with high winds, intense cold, heavy snow, and little rain.
all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.
cycle of causes and effects where the effects either directly reinforce (in a positive feedback loop) or oppose (in a negative feedback loop) the original condition.
coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.
gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone, that absorbs solar heat reflected by the surface of the Earth, warming the atmosphere.
amount of water vapor in the air.
winds speeding through the upper atmosphere.
having to do with the North and/or South Pole.
cyclone located around the North Pole or the South Pole.
all forms in which water falls to Earth from the atmosphere.
existing in the tropics, the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.
lowest layer of the Earth's atmosphere, extending from the surface to about 16 kilometers (10 miles) above.
measurement of the rate and direction of change in the position of an object.
state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.